Not so with the new generation of smarter lasers, which target the hallmarks of aging—creases, brown spots, broken capillaries, sagginess—without destroying the skin you've got. The result? Faster healing, so you can get back in makeup and return to work with smoother skin in as little as 24 hours. Still, any searing laser beam has the potential to scar or damage pigment (especially for women of color), so treatments are best left to an M.D., who can adjust the intensity to work with your skin tone. And sun-worshippers beware: Because many lasers target pigment, give the beach a four- to six-week break before your first session. Here, a laser-by-laser guide to the treatments that'll suit your trouble spots, budget, and schedule.
THE TREATMENT: Nonablative (i.e., surface skin is left intact) Fractional Resurfacing
What It's For: Smoothing fine-to-moderate lines, evening out brown spots, and improving overall glow with quick weekend recovery. (It's often referred to as "Fraxel," the brand that debuted the device in 2004.)
How It Works: Heat generated by the laser penetrates deep into the skin and stimulates collagen production without annihilating your epidermis (translation: no oozing or rawness). It's typically performed over a course of three to five 25-minute treatments, one to two months apart, under topical anesthesia. And it's safer for ethnic skin types than ablative lasers, but even women as light in tone as Lucy Liu should proceed with extra caution (your doctor can calibrate the laser at a lower intensity to minimize risks, but you may need extra sessions).
How It Feels: Less painful than ablative procedures, these treatments give the sensation of heat rather than pins and needles. Feels like a bad sunburn for about 10 minutes post-procedure; afterward, skin is pink and sandpapery for three to five days but can be camouflaged with concealer.
Price: $600 to $1200 per treatment
THE TREATMENT: Ablative (i.e., skin-wounding) Fractional Resurfacing
What It's For: Smoothing fine-to-deep lines and evening out brown spots in a single treatment. Can also help tighten lax skin and carpet bomb broken capillaries if they fall in the laser's direct path.